Robert Silliman Hillyer was born on June 3, 1895, in East Orange, New Jersey. Descended from one of Windsor, Connecticut’s founders, Hillyer maintained a lasting pride in his family’s heritage. The sense of benevolence that characterizes Hillyer’s poetry stems from this pride. Consequently, Hillyer was branded as a “genteel” and “conservative” poet by his contemporaries—a stigma rather than an honor—but such criticism did not hinder Hillyer’s success.
Hillyer’s nearly thirty-year relationship with Harvard University began when his previous writing experience at Kent landed him an editorship at the Harvard Advocate and Harvard Monthly. In 1916, he won the Garrison Prize for Poetry. In 1917, a selection of his poems were published in Eight Harvard Poets, an anthology containing the poems of Hillyer, E. E. Cummings, and six other poets. Soon after, Hillyer’s first collection of poems, Sonnets, and Other Lyrics, appeared. That year, he married Dorothy Stewart Mott; they were divorced in 1923.
The onset of World War I resulted in Hillyer taking a brief hiatus from academic work. After a short stint in the military as an ambulance driver, Hillyer returned to Harvard as an instructor, publishing The Five Books of Youth and Alchemy, both in 1920 and to mixed reviews. The Dial and The New York Evening Post Literary Review praised Hillyer’s technical...
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